Mentor relationships offer many professionals a better, faster way to increase their career success. Consider working with a mentor as part of your career development.

Classic mentoring relationships involve a more experienced person who acted as a teacher or coach.  But there are a variety of other mentoring relationships which may also be useful. These include: working with mentors who are only one step further along the career path, niche mentors who offer one critical skill expertise no matter which of you is more senior, or collaborative peer groups. There are also organizations, such as Veterati and American Corporate Partners, which match transitioning military to mentors.

Most mentoring relationships are informal, although some companies do have formal programs. Mentoring relationships commonly run from a few months to as much as a year. Your career can benefit from working with mentors at every stage. You can also benefit from mentoring others.

Why A Mentor?

The mentoring relationship has many possible functions:

  • Enhance specific skills, especially soft skills
  • Aide in intellectual or professional development
  • Deep learning of new technologies or their impact on your field/industry
  • Facilitate advancement
  • Expand horizons and perspectives on a career field or alternative careers
  • Provide values, customs, resources within an organization
  • Assist with professional connections
  • Model professional or managerial role
  • Provide moral support to build confidence
  • Furnish a relatively objective assessment of strengths and weaknesses

You should consider seeking out a mentor when you are looking at your future goals and want support to do so. Before you seek out a mentor, think about your side of the bargain. Do you have:

  • Goals and interest to learn and grow professionally
  • Willingness to take risks
  • Commitment to the process including committing time for it
  • Action plan to create goals, accept personal responsibility, listen, and follow through?

Finding A Mentor

Some companies have formal mentoring programs and so do some professional organizations. Most of us find a mentor on our own though our professional network. Before you think about asking someone to be a mentor, you need to assess what you want from a mentor.  Are you seeking:

  • information and support to get that elusive promotion?
  • to learn new skills or how to change career roles?
  • to develop better interpersonal skills?
  • to learn a new technology or other skill?
  • a path into management?

Understanding your goal in selecting a mentor ensures you are approaching the right people.

Mentors may be in your current company, in professional or volunteer organizations you belong to, or in community organizations you are active in.  Depending on what you want from a mentor, they may be in career fields that are the same as yours or different. Normally you will start with people you already know at least a little. If you are going through a professional organization or a veteran mentoring program, you may pair with someone new. Think about the people you know, go through your LinkedIn connections, ask trusted advisers or great past bosses for ideas, and make a list of potential mentors.

Making “the Ask”

Contact the most preferred name on your list first and work through others as needed. Many people are happy to help, but some may be too busy at this moment or feel unqualified.

Plan the call carefully:

  • What specifically are you asking for?
  • What is your goal for the mentoring and your preferred timeframe?
  • Why do you want such assistance to achieve your goal?
  • Why are you asking this specific person? Be as specific as possible rather than effusive or cliched. If this person has been recommended, tell them who and why.
  • Offer to send your goals in writing and allow time before you expect a response.

The best mentors often will not want to commit without careful thought.

One does not pay a mentor. Your progress, your willingness to ‘pay it forward’ , and the desire of the person to help others succeed, is the currency of mentoring.

Developing An Effective Mentoring Relationship

A mentoring relationship is only effective once there is trust and if you are open to new ideas.  Don’t waste your own time or anyone else’s otherwise.

These are your basic responsibilities:

  • Respect for the mentor’s time and attention
  • Being honest throughout the relationship
  • Assessing your own goals and asking for specific help, advice, or support
  • Developing a plan for the work, coordinated with the mentor
  • Taking the initiative in your development actions
  • Actively participating, asking questions, follow through
  • Taking full advantage of assistance offered
  • Maintaining confidentiality

You will need to communicate clearly and effectively with your mentor as you set up the relationship and throughout its duration.

Working with mentors throughout your career can add immeasurable value to your future and help you achieve your goals. These relationships can be incredibly powerful and rewarding, whether you are the mentor or the ‘mentee’. What aspect of your career could benefit from a mentor relationship?